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By Clara Kurnik

Bring a little fire to your next dinner party

Are you looking to add some flare to your next dinner party? How about actual flames? For the adventurous home chef, serving desserts en flambé, or flamed, is a simple way to add some wow factor to your next get-together.

To achieve a dessert en flambé, alcohol is added to a hot pan and ignited. Some very complex chemical reactions create a unique combination of flavors that cannot be achieved without fire. Since alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water, the actual alcohol content will burn off very quickly, leaving behind a subtle flavor from the liqueur.

The burning alcohol caramelizes sugars almost instantly, which adds a rich, full caramel flavor with a light texture. These flavors complement fruits very well, which is why some of the most popular desserts en flambé feature fruit.

Here are a few tips to ensure your flambé dessert is a hit:

  • Warm the liqueur slightly before adding it to the pan – you can do this by heating it gently in a small saucepan over low heat.
  • Dim the lights – The flames will burn bluish, so lowering the lights will allow guests to better see.
  • Safety first – Since this dessert involves open flames, make sure you are taking safety precautions.
    • Keep the pan on a steady surface – For your first attempt at flambé, keep the pan on a steady, heat-proof surface.
    • Use a long lighter or match – Keeping your hand back will reduce the risk of burns while you ignite the pan.
    • Have a fire extinguisher handy – Fire extinguishers are a necessity in any kitchen, so make sure yours is in working condition before you flambé.
    • Seat any young children at a safe distance – Children will be thrilled to see a dessert lit on fire, so keep them far enough back to avoid injury.

Ready to try dessert en flambé? Here are recipes for two of the most popular flambé dishes, Bananas Foster and Cherries Jubilee.

Bananas Foster Serves 4-8

  • ½ cup dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 4 bananas, peeled and sliced
  • ¼ cup dark rum
  1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat until just beginning to brown.
  2. Add brown sugar and stir until combined.
  3. Add bananas and cook until caramelized. Stir gently to help bananas keep their shape.
  4. Turn off heat.
  5. Pour in rum and carefully ignite with a match.
  6. Allow the flames to die down and serve over vanilla ice cream.

Cherries Jubilee Serves 4-6

  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • ¼ cup cold water
  • ¼ cup cherry juice
  • 1 pound frozen pitted cherries (any dark, sweet variety will work)
  • ½ tsp orange zest
  • ¼ cup Kirsch or Brandy
  1. Combine sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan.
  2. Whisk in the water and cherry juice, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat until just thickened.
  3. Stir in the cherries and orange zest, then return to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat and simmer 10-12 minutes, until cherries are heated through and tender.
  5. Remove cherries from heat and add liqueur.
  6. Use a match to light the pan.
  7. Allow the flames to die down, then serve over vanilla ice cream.
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